‘TEACHING ON THE CHEAP’ is selling children short – says ATL

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Teachers marching against Tory Education Secretary Gove’s policies in June
Teachers marching against Tory Education Secretary Gove’s policies in June

TEACHING on the cheap is selling children short: schools use teaching assistants and cover supervisors to teach children says the ATL teaching trade union.

Schools are getting teaching on the cheap and selling children short by using teaching assistants, cover supervisors and higher level teaching assistants to teach children on a regular basis rather than employing qualified teachers, according to an Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) survey.

In a survey of over 1,400 support staff working in state-funded schools in the UK, nearly a third (32 per cent) said they cover lessons for absent teachers, including a quarter of teaching assistants.

Over a fifth (22 per cent) of support staff said they covered more lessons in 2012/13 than the year before, a fifth (19 per cent) of teaching assistants, nearly a third (31 per cent) of higher level teaching assistants, rising to two-thirds (67 per cent) of cover supervisors.

Of the 400 plus who stand in for the regular class teacher when they are off sick or on a training course, 60 per cent said they did the same work as fully qualified teachers. 

Among teaching assistants the figure was 61 per cent and for cover supervisors 59 per cent.

Over 70 per cent of these support staff said they delivered lessons when they supervised a class; 70 per cent of teaching assistants and 72 per cent of cover supervisors.

Two-thirds of support staff covering classes said they have to prepare work for the children to do when they supervise lessons; 66 per cent of teaching assistants and 64 per cent of cover supervisors.

In most instances, support staff only cover classes if the regular teacher is off sick, on training or unavailable for a few days, however, nearly a third (31 per cent) of those used to cover lessons take classes for longer than three days.

Nearly a third (31 per cent) of the support staff who cover lessons look after a class of children at least part of most days, rising to 91 per cent of cover supervisors.  A third (32 per cent) of teaching assistants do so once a week and just under two-thirds (61%) do so once or twice a term.

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said:  ‘Schools are selling children short by using teaching assistants to teach classes when the regular teacher is unavailable. 

‘We are totally opposed to this exploitation of support staff who are being used as a cheap option to teachers. 

‘It is grossly unfair on them and on the children and their parents who rightly expect their children to be taught by qualified teachers.’

A higher level teaching assistant at a secondary school in England said: “I prepare, teach and mark at least four lessons for two year 7 bottom-set classes, and a year 8 set 3 for at least three hours a week. It is teaching on the cheap!’

A cover supervisor at a secondary school in England said: ‘We are expected to teach subjects, answer questions, supervise controlled GCSE coursework, and make up lessons on the spot.

‘I have even been asked to give copies of lessons I have prepared to members of teaching staff.’

A teaching assistant at a primary school in England said: ‘it is unfair that many TAs are teaching classes in the absence of a teacher, and doing same job as a teacher for much less money.’

A higher level teaching assistant at a secondary academy in England said: ‘The pay for TA’s here is dreadful. 

‘We are paid the same as the toilet cleaner, but more demands are made all the time. Our school relies on tax credits to supplement our pay.’

Meanwhile members of the University and College Union (UCU) at the University of Bath on Friday launched a petition to try and halt the closure of the institution’s teacher training (PGCE) programme.

Union members also hope to bring a motion condemning the plans, and calling for greater scrutiny of how the decision was arrived at, to the institution’s key decision-making body – the senate – in a fortnight’s time.

In the summer the university put forward a proposal to close PGCE programme, despite a review of the institution’s department of education by internationally-respected academic Professor Geoff Whitty, which saw the PGCE programme as an important part of the university’s future plans.

The University of Bath’s PGCE programme was rated as ‘outstanding’ by OFSTED and is financially viable, while the department of education as a whole runs a healthy surplus.

The university has used a change in government policy, to deliver more teacher training in schools, to justify its plans. The PGCE programme works with more than 60 partner schools in the region and most of them have written to the university to state their opposition to shutting the programme.

The union said there needed to be far greater scrutiny of the university’s plans and raised concerns that the university has tried to rush through its decision because of the level of opposition from within the university and from the region’s schools.

The university’s academic assembly, which is the forum for all academic staff, meets on Thursday (10 October) and will discuss a motion that condemns the decision to close the PGCE course. It also calls for greater scrutiny of the closure decision itself and the process that was followed to reach it.

If the academic assembly passes the motion its representatives will take it to the senate meeting on Wednesday 16 October.

Steve Cooper, partnership coordinator and science tutor for the University of Bath PGCE programme, said: “The decision to close the teacher training programme is not based on any evidence, flies in the face of an independent academic review and seems to ignore OFSTED’s outstanding rating of the course.

‘There is strong opposition to the move within the university and from many of the schools that work with the programme.

‘We are unhappy with how this decision has been rushed through and hope to take our concerns to the senate meeting on 16 October.

‘Other universities are not reacting to the government’s new policy by shutting down entire courses and we hope academics across the UK will support our petition against the closure at Bath.’

The motion carried states: ‘Academic Assembly is appalled by the recent decision made by the Academic Programmes Committee to close the Department of Education’s highly regarded PGCE course.

‘Assembly wishes this decision to be brought to the attention of Senate for further scrutiny not only in terms of the closure decision itself but also the process which has been followed to reach it which has created a high level of stress for staff at risk of redundancy and compromised the University’s relationship with local schools and the community.’